The Pirates have reached the 2013 All-Star break with a 56-37 record, it's their best start to any season since 1972. One would think that would make for a great story in Pittsburgh, complete with feverish excitement. And for the most part, there has been great excitement surrounding the team this year. Most fans have Bucco Fever and are really into the players, the games and even everything else that's going on in the major leagues--"What did the Cardinals do?"
However, there's still that underlying and very real fear for most Pirates fans that the team will disappoint again and suffer a third straight collapse--last season's collapse was historic, so MLB may have to open up a special wing in Cooperstown if the franchise goes ahead and "three-peats."
As I've said many times on this blog, I can certainly understand the trepidation among fans. And for many, they simply won't be able to enjoy what's going on until the Pirates finish the job and, at the very least, finish with a winning record.
But, in the meantime, what about giving the Pirates' ownership group and front office a little credit for the consistent improvement over the last three seasons? Two years ago, Pittsburgh was 47-43 at the break. A year ago, the record stood at 48-37.
A 56-37 doesn't just show marked improvement for a third straight season, it tells me that the plan put in place when owner Bob Nutting became a more prominent figure and hired team president Frank Coonelly who in turn hired gm Neal Huntington is actually working.
When Huntington was put in charge of the baseball operations five seasons ago, the farm system was almost completely barren of talent, save for Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and a few others. In fact, Stan Savran, a long-time Pittsburgh media personality, said that an anonymous baseball executive told him that he felt sorry for Huntington because he had virtually nothing in the system to work with.
Things weren't working. Players like Jason Bay, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez were productive and fan favorites, but the team was still in last place, and something had to be done--the organization had to be re-built from bottom to top.
Huntington has done that. Not every trade and acquisition has worked out--the Pirates have nothing of note to show for the Bay trade in the summer of 2008 even though he was their top trading chip at the time--but a good deal of them have.
Today, not only do the Pirates have a talented major league roster, with McCutchen, Walker, Pedro Alvarez and A.J. Burnett leading the charge, they have a much more respectable farm system--Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte are just two of the latest examples of players who Pittsburgh acquired, developed and are now making significant contributions to the major league team.
For reasons that only they really know, a lot of fans still resent Nutting and have held him to mistakes that he and former majority owners once made. But sometimes, it's nice to just forget about the past and concentrate on the present, and hopefully the future.
Whatever mistakes Nutting and Gang made in the past is the past. It has nothing to do with what's going on at PNC Park today.
Speaking of the Pirates' beautiful ballpark, the most significant team accomplishment since the building opened was when Sanchez won the 2006 National League batting title. Even though Pittsburgh was a last place team, many fans followed the batting race all throughout the summer because they wanted something, anything to be proud of.
The past three seasons, especially 2013, the fans have been paying attention to the division and wild card standings, and for me, that's much better than a batting title.
And the reason we're able to do that is because the plan is working.